In the last election candidates – Republican and Democrats – promised to pass legislation that would eliminate the wining and dining of senators and representatives by those seeking their votes. Reflecting the public’s concern that such perks were the seedbed of corruption, those running for office turned the election into a referendum on ethics reform.
The people spoke.
Reform candidates won.
The old order was swept away and a new day was a-coming.
Only it doesn’t seem to be happening that way.
While making a great show of stopping PAC-to-PAC transfers and pass-through-pork, legislators balked at raining on their own personal party.
The Alabama Senate, in a bipartisan move led by Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, prohibited lobbyists from lavishing money and gifts on legislators, but in an exemption that is nothing short of audacious in its hypocrisy, the bill allows the people who hire lobbyists to spend whatever they want to entertain the former reformers.
Only two senators opposed the loophole. The rest voted to let AEA invite them to "education conferences" conveniently held near a Robert Trent Jones golf course, let ALFA host a information seminar at the Grand Hotel, or any other special interest that wants their vote to whisk them away to a lush conference center or a fancy reception where, they want us to believe, politics won’t be discussed.
If the public buys that, the public deserves what it gets.
Then to make matters worse, the Alabama House Ethics Committee passed a version of the same bill that only slightly tightened the loophole carved out by the Senate.
All of which is to say that if this sort of thing does not stop the whole process will spin out of control and lobbying reform in Alabama will end up a sham.
House Ethics Committee Chairman Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, remarked as his committee voted to prohibit lobbyists spending money on legislators, "if lobbyists want to talk to lawmakers about bills, they’ll have to talk in the legislators' offices instead of buying them dinner."
That is the way it should be.
Then Chairman McClendon and his committee voted to let those lobbyists talk to lawmakers at receptions, conferences and “events” paid for by the lobbyists' employer.
That is not the way it should be.